A Roundtable Conversation from the 2016 West Indian Literature Conference
A Roundtable Conversation from the 2016 West Indian Literature Conference
The 2016 West Indian Literature Conference, held in Montego Bay, Jamaica, in October, was organized around the theme “Archiving Caribbean Literature & Popular Culture.” Given the organizers’ explicit focus on digital archives and digital access to Caribbean journals, it seemed an ideal opportunity to gather leading voices in both archiving and publishing to discuss the state of Caribbean digital publishing. Following is a revised transcript of that roundtable. The participants were Evelyn O’Callaghan (Journal of West Indian Literature [JWIL]), Kaiama L. Glover (sx archipelagos), Laurie N. Taylor (Digital Library of the Caribbean [dLOC]), Patricia J. Saunders (Anthurium), and me, Kelly Baker Josephs (sx salon). I provided the panelists beforehand with questions for individual presentation and for general discussion. Though the conversation often followed its own route, I include those precirculated questions here to sketch the general outline of the discussion:
- For those of you who existed in print form beforehand, what has been your biggest challenge in reformatting (or co-formatting) for digital publication?
- For those of you born-digital, what has been your biggest challenge in growing a public for your platform?
- What does digital publishing offer Caribbean (literary) studies?
- What does Caribbean (literary) studies offer digital publishing?
- How does and/or should a digital publication/archive differ from a print publication/analog archive?
- What, beyond the financial, would you say is (are) the crucial difference(s) between open-access platforms and those behind a paywall? Are these issues that potential authors should consider before submitting?
- What are your dreams for your platform? That is, what do you hope the digital will enable for your platform in the immediate and/or distant future?
My sincere thanks to the panelists for their participation in the roundtable and their permission to publish their insights here. My thanks also to Alia Richardson, undergraduate at Williams College, for her help with transcribing the recording of the conversation. Please note that at certain times, the panelists are referring to projected images of webpages.
Evelyn O’Callaghan: Well, it is very ironic for me to kick off this panel since, although I am the oldest here, I am also by far the one with the least knowledge of digital publishing. The Journal of West Indian Literature has been published in print copy since 1985, edited by staff in English at the three campuses of the University of the West Indies [Mona, Jamaica; St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago; and Cave Hill, Barbados]. Only in 2015 did we transition to a digital platform, and that was, let me tell you, a steep learning curve. Because I had become editor in chief, I tried first to go through my campus [UWI, Cave Hill], but at the time we had only two Web designers who had to conform to a very rigid template, so we decided to use subscription savings to hire a freelance designer who worked closely with a part-time website manager, and, somehow, they got us online. The trouble came with understanding the technological terms and options and shifting the business model, since online subscribers wanted access via IP. What is “IP,” I was left asking? What’s “front end” and “embedded”? This remains a challenge for the less techie among us, but thankfully some of the newer members are more clued in and have been very helpful in managing upkeep of content on our website and keeping tabs on subscription numbers and payment records.
The really hard part, as for all editors, I think, is the production of each issue with attention to quality control in terms of the scholarship and, now, visual impact. We have no institutional support. Ours is a journal that is run by full-time academics with barely any support—we have a part-time Web manager and a designer who are paid year to year, once we have the funds, and we also use a freelance copyeditor. The rest of it we do ourselves, with a little administrative assistance from office staff when they have time. We are really lucky that we managed to get such a good team on board, and we wanted it to be as regionally (and diasporically) representative as possible. We have Antonia MacDonald-Smythe, in Grenada, as the book review editor, and she does such a good job. We have Lisa Outar, Rachel Mordecai, and Glyne Griffith, in North America; we have Keithly Woodward, from the College of the Bahamas, who unfortunately isn’t here today. And, of course, there’s Michael Bucknor (UWI, Jamaica), as incoming editor, and me, from UWI, Barbados, for the next couple years.
The only other challenge we had worth mentioning is money. And I don’t mean just earning money; I mean getting money in and out, getting electronic options for people and agents like EBSCO to pay for subscriptions, because with the increasing money-laundering regulations and foreign-exchange regulations in the Caribbean, it is so difficult to set up just a basic PayPal account, if you are an institution. They want you to register as a company, and if you register as a company, you are going to end up paying your bank steep company prices. So we’ve gone below the radar for the past, well, thirty years. Now I think we are going to have to recognize that business status. We’ve got something organized, but it’s a bit tricky because, you know, I’m actually not a company, but some money’s going into an account that has my name on it, which is not really transparent. We need to do a bit of work in terms of recognizing our status, and I’m dying to hear how the others, those who are not open access, did this.
Kelly Baker Josephs: Next, we have Kaiama Glover, from sx archipelagos.
Kaiama L. Glover: I’m actually going to try to answer a couple of your questions, Evelyn, and maybe make your life easier—but from the position of a complete newbie who is full of optimism and hasn’t yet been shut down by the world. So take everything I’m offering with a grain of salt. But so far, so good. Recently, just three months ago (so when I say newbie, I’m serious), I and my coeditor, Alex Gil, whom I mentioned yesterday and called a unicorn, launched a new, born-digital, completely experimental publishing platform—because we got some money from the NEH [National Endowment for the Humanities], we couldn’t at first call it a journal, since they don’t support journals—a publishing platform called sx archipelagos, which I’m about to show you very quickly. So, sx archipelagos is a [whispers] journal with three distinct, discrete valences to it. The first you’ll see here [projection of website]. You can get online or get on your cellphones, and I’ll tell you in a little bit why this is something I would want you to do.
The platform consists, as I said, of three valences. The first: traditional scholarly articles. So, things we all know and love. Basic articles with embedded and enriched multimedia content. So it’s designed to read smoothly, to immediately allow access to multimedia, but in every way these are peer-reviewed and footnoted and cited articles for which, to answer one of Evelyn’s questions, the authors retain the copyright. Each article has a unique URL, and the authors offer the content with what’s called a CCBY 4.0 international license. Which means, they’re basically saying that anyone can use the work in any context as long as the author is cited. So the authors retain all the copyright. And the reason I mention this is—if you look on your cellphones (actually, don’t do so now, because we don’t have enough time for people to go exploring), these articles are as legible on this screen as they are on a laptop as they are on a cellphone because we used what’s called “minimal computing” to do it. Minimal computing—we can talk about this later—is a whole panel in and of itself. It simply means that this is a really cheap website. It’s built in static code, meaning that it is not constantly updating, it doesn’t require a great bandwidth, it doesn’t require all of the bells and whistles that go into most of what we see online. The back end is very simple.
Another thing, and this is all turning out to be an offering to Evelyn, is that when you look on the site—I haven’t even done the other two valences yet, I’m feeling kind of pressed for time—everything that we have on the site is available in our back end, that is, we have what’s called a Github. The entire programming of the site, all the code we used, all the formatting, is open access and available to the world . . . let me see if I can find it here . . . . [projection of website] You can see in our credit section how to find out how the site is built, and you can literally replicate it with someone who has a very basic knowledge of code. So no hiring of fancy developers, no going to your institution for funds or whatever else. So that was just valence one, the traditional scholarly essays.
The second is digital projects. Here, too, we sort of outsource the cost of maintenance. What we’re offering with the digital projects valence is something that we don’t know has yet been done, which is peer reviewing people who are doing work in Caribbean studies in digital formats. And this is part of our mandate as a platform—to create an atmosphere and an environment in which the work that we do digitally can be recognized and rewarded by our profession; that is, you can make it a line item on your CV as in, This digital work has been vetted, has been peer reviewed, and has the backing of the well-known and prominent Small Axe Project behind it. So here, for example, is “Musical Passage,” which is a project done by Mary Caton Lingold, Laurent Dubois, and David Garner. We initiated a peer-review process with them; we published the peer-review process. So they submitted a proposal to us, our editorial team farmed it out for peer review, and we did our own peer review. They then responded and made tweaks to their project, which was in development when they first submitted it, and we published—we launched, I should say—their project on our site. However, we have only launched it on our site. They are responsible, on their separate site, for the maintenance and upkeep of it. So we’re not hosting them, but we’re providing a peer-reviewed portal to the work they’re doing in the digital humanities in the Caribbean.
Then, the last valence of the sx archipelagos project is something you’ll also be familiar with: reviews. So, we have traditional scholarly articles, digital projects, and then, finally, digital project reviews. The digital project review is a valence that’s based on the model of the scholarly book review. It’s simply that we have asked, for example, Jessica Marie Johnson to review a fully executed, outside-existing Caribbean studies digital project. In this instance [projection of website], it’s Vince Brown’s Two Plantations Project. So again, the digital project review is just like a book review. It discusses and analyzes the scholarly content and quality of the project as well as its digital chops: what made it such that the content and the form needed to be vehicled in this digital way. And then, of course, there are links to the original project itself. So, again, the effort of sx archipelagos is (a) to make it such that we can sustain the journal, the platform, in a way that doesn’t tax us financially and doesn’t get into some of the resource issues that plague our journals in normal circumstances, but also (b) to offer it, really, as a contribution to the community that allows for you all to do this work in the digital humanities and have that work be recognizable in your institutions for, quite frankly, tenure and promotion. Thank you.
Kelly Baker Josephs: Thank you, Kaiama. Next, we have Laurie Taylor, from the Digital Library of the Caribbean.
Laurie N. Taylor: When the Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC)—I think everyone is pretty familiar with it, or I hope so; if not, I have lots of handouts up here—when dLOC began in 2004, it started with a dream: the dream of shared governance and of meeting needs and utilizing the technology for libraries and then next steps. It wasn’t just an endpoint goal of creating a digital library but a trajectory; we created the digital library to ensure preservation and access to materials as well as to build our community capacity and to grow into next steps and new opportunities.
More recently, dLOC has done all sorts of things. Teaching guides, obviously, are big area for us, in terms of digital publishing. How do we aggregate teaching materials together? How do we share them? How do we promote them? Also we are “reborn-digital”—we have digital versions of historic materials and born-digital materials (created digitally), and there’s also a sort of in-between scholarly piece, for scholarly books that go out of print. The books are available in some libraries, not others. We have an NEH/Mellon Grant—the Open Book Project—for digitization of around forty books. Not a ton, but in doing this, we’re learning the process for how you clear permissions according to publisher’s standards, not just library standards. This is a lot more arduous, especially when you’re bringing the books back in print, which we are doing through print-on-demand and ePub 3 format. This means looking at other technological formats, including print; at digital publishing to realign with print; and at new opportunities with that.
As part of this, we’ve launched an imprint at University of Florida, along with our statewide university press—the LibraryPress@UF—looking at other forms of digital scholarly publishing and other opportunities. For this, we’re going through the contract process and the licensing contract. I’m really familiar with the ones from the library side, like the ones that EBSCO sends, but I’m not familiar with how publishers normally respond to those and why, and so this is a learning process for us, to build up more of the documentation. From this, we’re going to release a white paper and sets of documentation so that we can all avoid being totally confused by the paperwork that we get, so we can actually understand it.
dLOC is also doing new digital scholarship, like Haiti: An Island Luminous, where new forms of digital work are made possible by building upon the works that have been digitized and then doing curation, editing, and compilation, and finding other ways to bring them together. Questions emerge on how do we tie this to other initiatives, including to We Need Diverse Books, a big movement to make sure we have better representation in children’s books. How do we feed into that? That’s really exciting. This is the point that I wanted us to get to with the Digital Library of the Caribbean, when I first thought—I can see the dream, I understand where this goes: we build the digital library, and the digital capacity (and that’s always a rebuilding, ongoing work), but then we build upon it in the next steps; then, how to connect with other work like Create Caribbean, really exciting work about how to build skills, and marry them to digital publishing.
Kelly Baker Josephs: Thank you, Laurie. Next, we have Patricia Saunders, from Anthurium.
Patricia J. Saunders: In an effort to respond to some of Kelly’s questions, one of which was (the one I spent the most time thinking about), What does digital publishing offer Caribbean literary studies in particular? And in a way, this is tied in to some of the questions that Evelyn raised. Anthurium, by now, is probably an old hand, believe it or not, at digital publishing because Anthurium is now thirteen years old. It’s probably one of the oldest, open-access, peer-reviewed journals around [applause], and I think you all should be applauding yourselves . . . .
In writing a recent piece for Small Axe, I had an opportunity to dive into the politics of what it means to be an open-access journal. When Sandra Paquet started this journal, she was insistent about one thing, and the one thing was that it would be open access. Which meant that you didn’t have to be part of a larger database in order to get access to it. Open access means it’s free. So you avoid some of the questions about subscriptions and how to identify yourself, but in so doing, there is a lot of front-end work to be done. So our arrangement with the authors is that they maintain the copyright, and if they later come back and want to use the article in a book, they have the freedom to do so; they just need to cite Anthurium as the first place that it appeared.
What are the benefits to being an open-access online journal? I’m still working on getting the statistics for this. Currently Anthurium’s readership is about 70,000. Something no print journal could ever approach. And, interestingly, we can map through Google logistics where these readers are. Many of them are in Africa, Asia, many in the Caribbean region. There are a lot of . . . obviously if you have 70,000 readers, you’ve increased by 150 percent, if not more, the number of citations that the scholarship will have. And of course, come tenure time, these things are remarkably important. So I think that’s one of the things.
One of the difficulties, of course, is trying to maintain the fee-free status, which is one of the reasons we’ve shied away from EBSCO. EBSCO has written us several times, in different variations, inviting us to join, and it is something that we’re supposed to decide on. But in going through the library, the librarians have in turn contacted the legal office at the University of Miami. But once you do that [join EBSCO], you do then have to tweak all your arrangements with the contracts with the authors. And so you’re in a Catch-22, because EBSCO certainly allows you that kind of fee-based possibility to get the funding to keep yourself going, but you relinquish a fair amount of autonomy and some rights in doing that. And I think these kinds of decisions will prove to be a difficulty, particularly in Caribbean studies. The reason Anthurium has been insistent on remaining open access is because otherwise much of the scholarship that’s produced by Caribbean scholars in the region would not be accessible to them regionally, which seems to be counterintuitive. And so that’s the difficulty. I mean, we’ve been able to do it largely with two faculty members—a managing editor, who’s a graduate student who’s on a volunteer basis, and one graduate student fellowship—which has not been the easiest to do. It also relies on a tremendous amount of good will by many of you sitting in the audience in terms of doing peer reviews and so forth.
But I think that we’re entering a terrain now where we have to start thinking about the legal, financial, and political implications of the work that we do in digital publishing. And we must understand that it is deeply, deeply political. I think that that’s a part of it that we haven’t talked about, but it’s an integral part of knowledge production—how do we decide on the forms of democracy that are going to be part of knowledge production in the digital age. Because I think that that’s a fundamental part. For scholarship by Caribbean people, about Caribbean people, what does it mean for Caribbean people to not have access to it? I think that’s one of the main foundational pillars of Anthurium. It’s not a perfect platform. There are a number of things that we’re trying to do in order to generate some kind of income, because obviously at some point we’re at the mercy of the dean’s office: if the dean’s office decides to cut the minimal funding that we get, we no longer have a journal. Or my colleague Donette Francis and I will have to take up the heavy lifting of that in addition to our full teaching load, and so on. So I think that these are some of the challenges as well as the benefits and the drawbacks in terms of digital publishing.
Kelly Baker Josephs: So I’m not going to do a full thing about sx salon because I’d planned only to organize and moderate. Vanessa Valdés, our book review editor, was to participate, but, unfortunately, she couldn’t make the conference. sx salon is the online literary platform for the Small Axe Project. It is six years old. We just published issue 22 in June, and many of you in the room have published with us. Thank you. Please continue to do so.
We have a large and growing digital archive of work published with us. One of the reasons I requested we hold this roundtable on digital publishing is that the Small Axe Project has just recently revamped its website. It was a long arduous process. It is not yet done—I mean, the front end, for the most part, is done, but there is still a lot to do behind the scenes to get it back to full access and proper formatting for our readers. What happened during this revamping was I realized how tenuous the archive of sx salon is. I had many moments in which I thought, “Oh my God, where is it? Where is that whole body of work?” There were also moments when I had to go through the archive, during which I realized, “Oh yeah, we published this, I remember this . . . this too.” And it’s all back there, and it’s linked on people’s CVs and websites, and if that link is broken, what happens? When folks are going up for tenure? To have that link broken is anxiety producing for me. I don’t know how people who publish with us feel, but I would imagine they would feel similarly. I’ve had e-mails that come to me during the the revamp this summer that say, “Wait, I can’t find this thing that I just published. Can you send me the new link?” So we’ve been working on repairing all those links on the new site.
So that was basically my impetus for this panel, and some of the questions I posed to the panelists ahead of time also came from Pat’s points in her article in Small Axe 50 on journal work. There were two sets of questions, and the first set were these two: “For those of you who existed in print form beforehand, what has been your biggest challenge in reformatting (or co-formatting) for digital publication?” And Evelyn spoke a little bit to that. And “For those of you born-digital, what has been your biggest challenge in growing a public for your platform?” I don’t know if we spoke about the public part, so does anyone have anything to add to this question of growing a public for the platform, because you can have this publication that only the people who publish in it know exists . . .
Patricia J. Saunders: This is going to sound a little bit cheeky, but it’s not intended to be cheeky. For Anthurium, there hasn’t been much of a challenge, in large part because of the institution building that preceded the journal. So before Anthurium was published, Sandra Paquet had already hosted the Caribbean Summer Writers Institute and had always been an integral part of the West Indian Literature Conference, so there was a public already in place, and that kind of institution building is what has allowed Anthurium to thrive. I don’t know if she was doing that institution building with Anthurium in mind, but I think for at least the first six years of the journal, most of the work that was published came out of West Indian Literature Conferences, other symposiums, conversations that were had during one conference or another. I think this speaks to some of what I call the undocumented labor of intellectual work that we’re all engaged in in one form or another, which is institution building. That is our public, right? So much of the reading audience that we have are people who send their students, who integrate Anthurium articles into their classes, any number of people who are both academic and nonacademic. I think it’s an interesting phenomenon, and one of the things I talk about in terms of this undocumented labor is the extent to which a number of these digital platforms grew out of other forms of undocumented labor, namely, symposiums, reading groups, different things like that. So as we’re doing that, we’re building our own audience for these digital forms of publishing.
Laurie N. Taylor: Absolutely. Growing the public is leveraging what’s already been there, growing the community, being based in the community, connecting from it. Then the question becomes, How do you grow into new communities, too? The same way: symposia, outreach. . . . I tweet a lot; I’ve been trying to tweet the conference, not too much because if other people aren’t tweeting, there’s etiquette and other things that might come into play. This is just trying to promote and make connections across . . . . When you look at digital technologies you have digital platforms, but you also have the network: How do things connect across, and how does having more points that are connected on the network help? It’s like having two eyes, to create perspective; it’s not redundancy, it’s the connection that strengthens the vision. How do we do that to connect and to amplify the message for all of us? At UF, one thing that we ran into internally was that a lot of people in the libraries knew parts of dLOC but they didn’t know each other. Now, we have regular meetings, at least monthly, about fourteen of us in the libraries alone, and we share on our work: “Oh we’re digitizing this!” or, “Oh we’re working on this K–12 lesson.” Being able to see that together as a team and having those internal meetings as a team is really important.
Evelyn O’Callaghan: Well, I mean, we already had a public, so I don’t know if we’ve grown it that much. It’s too early to tell yet. But I think also getting more help . . . . You know, it’s what you said, it’s network building. You send to your friends and your colleagues, you mention the journal at conferences like these, and people put it on their feeds and their blogs and whatever Listservs that they happen to subscribe to, and the circle widens. So we really do rely a good deal on good will to publicize our new status.
Kaiama L. Glover: So, yeah, to reiterate what the panel has just said. One thing: obviously we very much relied on the existing public that is created by the various platforms that make up Small Axe, but we are also very mindful of growing that public. As such, in tandem with developing this project for sx archipelagos, we initiated, and Kelly is a part of this as well, the Caribbean Digital, which is now in its third iteration in December, an annual event that we host at Columbia University and Barnard College, wherein we really do try to bring together everyone we can imagine who is working on the digital humanities in the field of Caribbean studies. And so, in that way, we are not only generating a public but, as important—more important for us at this stage—generating contributors. Right, because there is going to be something of a . . . , or we’re at least attentive to the possibility that there might be some initial concern with a platform like this—that people might worry, Will this count as much if it’s being published on this online forum? So we’re really trying to make it clear that, yes, this should count as peer-reviewed, this is something in the world.
But the third thing we’re doing, in addition to relying on Small Axe, and in addition to holding these annual events, is we’re developing a process wherein, as you mention, we can make very clear how much more circulation your content will get via digital publication. Not just by the fact of the accessibility of the platform itself, but we will be offering—we’re developing this right now—monthly reengagement with the content that’s published on the site. Meaning that we will do an sx archipelagos-featured content “event” every month and encourage contributors to then re-blast just that piece of content and to imagine different ways to keep it dynamic in the world. Such as opening up a comments section for replies. And updating—because this is a website, we’re able to update contributions with enriching further research the authors have done since the initial publication, generating an open-form discussion around the contribution. So, really leveraging the affordances of the digital, to remind us that our advantage over print journals is our ability potentially to make content more relevant vis-à-vis these other things that may have happened. So those are ways we are trying to keep the public engaged.
Kelly Baker Josephs: As much as we may think of social media as time-wasting spaces, I rely on Twitter and Facebook to keep portions of our archive alive. For example, there’s a Patricia Powell memoir that we have an excerpt of—I didn’t remember we published this, so who knows who else remembers that we have this? When I come across such pieces, I share them. So, here’s this Patricia Powell piece, or here’s something else I’ve been thinking about and that we have published—let me share it with the world (or my world) via social media. I don’t know how much that works. We had the presentation about “likes” and “shares” earlier in the conference. I like to think that those indicate something. But trying to keep the archive living through those platforms is how I try to grow and maintain a public at sx salon.
Pat did speak to what digital publishing offers Caribbean literary studies. I thought a more interesting question was what we thought Caribbean literary studies, or Caribbean studies in general, might offer to digital publishing. I was thinking of sx archipelagos a lot when I was writing this, but also Anthurium, because they came out in the forefront to do this digital publishing thing. My first publication is in the first issue of Anthurium, and I remember hesitating and wondering, As a grad student, what does this digital thing mean for my future? And it ended up being fine. It was backed by such weight in the community. I don’t know what happened in job searches during committee conversations or wherever, but I know that in my community, it meant something, and people would talk to me about that article because it’s accessible in a way that things behind EBSCO may not be. So I think there are ways that Caribbean studies has been in front of the digital publishing curve. But did anyone have other things to add to that?
Laurie N. Taylor: I love that you said digital publishing is political, that all is political, the library is always political, archives, how all this works together. The questions were, What does digital publishing offer Caribbean literary studies? What does Caribbean literary studies offer digital publishing? The foreground is that it’s always political and it’s always complicated. It’s complex, and that’s not a bad thing. Too often in technology we get this, Oh just make it easy. It doesn’t have to be easy, and easy is something that’s learned. Looking at the complexity and the appropriate levels of complexity, how do we approach access in a way that’s more than a binary on/off? Normally we talk about material access: How do people get access? Is there a way that they can get through the paywall? Just putting material online is a lot and a really important first step. But then what about the functional access: Do people understand how to use it? Can people type and use the system online? What about meaningful access? Do people understand the conversations that are going on? Having multiple sites engaged in this type of work across multiple platforms is needed. This is critical for really engaging and really understanding and growing that community of scholarship, and that’s something that’s critical for digital publishing. It’s not just a tech switch of on and off; this understanding and rich approach to complexity is something that Caribbean literary studies really has to offer.
Patricia J. Saunders: I don’t know how much Caribbean literary studies offers digital publishing, but I think it certainly gives us entreé into a kind of digital pedagogy. Because we’ve certainly been able, through Anthurium. If we didn’t have Anthurium we wouldn’t now have a digital humanities fellow who’s working with VHS tapes from the Caribbean Writers Summer Institute archive that need to be digitally remastered, “metadata’ed.” These are not technologies and processes that are unique to Caribbean literary studies; they belong to the whole field of digital humanities. So in a peculiar way, someone like Sandra Paquet, who is archiving and has been incessantly documenting readings and everything else that constituted the growth of Caribbean literary studies as early as the 1990s—because that archive is there, we have something called a digital archive that is part of what we now call the digital humanities. At the University of Miami there is a wide range of material available now to begin training the next generation of graduate students, and even undergraduate students, in the process of digital archiving as well as digital publishing and “metadata’ing.”
Another piece of it that Kelly just mentioned is the opportunity for a different kind of mentoring within the profession. All of our graduate students want to get published; they understand that you need to get published to get a job. The interesting thing is that very few of them understand what that process actually involves. And I think one of the things digital publishing, like the Small Axe platforms, allows us to say to them is, It’s hard to move from being unpublished to the peer-reviewed essay, as a graduate student, but there are these intermediate mediums: the interview, the book review essay. And there are moments when as faculty members we can kind of mentor them through that process to get a first publication. It may not be the publication that they want, but it’s a way of bringing their critical voice into the field, and I think it’s been interesting to watch the interview as a vehicle for critical intervention make a comeback. The interview (as a critical tool) kind of disappeared many, many years ago, and I see that it’s come back now as a really useful pedagogical tool, particularly in Caribbean studies. So I use it a lot in my classes. When we read a novel by a particular writer, we then go and find interviews, and we talk about the moments in the interview when you see the authors grappling with things that they’re talking about in their essays or in their novels. And I think the review essay—there are so many new formats of it in Small Axe, in Anthurium, in JWIL, that these are all modes of mentoring, believe it or not. And I think they give graduate students an opportunity to enter the dialogue through a different academic genre but one that is still very important in the field on the whole.
Kaiama L. Glover: I just very quickly wanted to add one thing. I feel very strongly that what Caribbean studies offers to the digital environment is reimagining what counts as text. And just the ability to make clear that so many of the things that come out of the Caribbean aren’t necessarily in a written form and immediately recognizable as text but actually can bear the weight of scrutiny and engagement from a rich intellectual and scholarly perception that’s more easily vehicled and recognized in a digital platform.
Kelly Baker Josephs: We need to leave time for discussion with the audience now, so I’m just going to leave the last three questions up on the screen in case we want to bring them back for conversation. But Michael is lifting his hand . . .
Michael Bucknor (audience member): One of the things that I discovered by having a small article in Anthurium is that you have the facility to report on people’s engagement with the scholarly article. So, engagement with the scholarly article by its audience is one facility that the digital platform seems to create. I don’t know whether you are able to record whether people have just read the title or the introductory line or the entire article, but we do get these reports. I received one about three days ago: “This month, this many people from somewhere have downloaded your article . . .” So, if this pays off, for example, with initiating further conversations with people or with the extension of that work to a new audience, I think that’s one of the kinds of expansion that digital publishing has achieved.
My second comment is going back to when Pat referred to interviews. JWIL, for example, used to have, as one possibility for submission, the interview. And we know of that program from St. Augustine, with Giselle Rampaul, that has those interviews with Caribbean writers [The Space between Words]. And I wondered if any of these platforms ever thought of offering both an audio and a script version, because this kind of digital thing can do both. People can actually hear voices and they could get an actual script of it if they needed the documented portion. So I wonder if any of you have experimented or tried that as part of an interview process.
And then, third, just to add to something that Pat said (I don’t know why I’m paying so much attention to you, Pat), but when JWIL was a print version, EBSCO was one of the means of expanding our readership—if somebody does not necessarily want to buy the entire issue, they could access a particular article that they could pay for it through the EBSCO host. So that was one of the . . . you know, you could get a PDF version and you could pay for just that one article . . . and it has expanded our readership. But it also has given us resources for the continued production of the journal. And our relationship now is in a kind of different mode, once we went digital. But one of the things that I had conceived of for the Routledge Companion project is that if you’re teaching a graduate class, you might not want all sixty-odd essays—I can’t remember now the number of essays that are in that collection—but you could have a selection of three, in the e-copy version. Maybe Routledge would allow you to have, you know, four of these essays that you’re using for a graduate class rather than having the entire production. These are some of the possibilities that I think of with digital publishing.
Kelly Baker Josephs: I’m going to answer the interview question because sx salon does have an interview section. And this speaks to the first and the last question on the screen right now. The thing that I found with interviews and that question of having an audio file, even if it’s very simply integrated, is that the academic interview is a very copyedited thing, or a very edited thing. Many people did not want—I have not come across anyone yet who wanted—to share the raw version. The published version is so revised. And this is one of the conversations I want to have in sx salon (we did it with the book review): What is this genre of “the interview”? What do we do with it? In the interview, especially with the author and the academic interviews, we move things around, we change the ways that we ask the questions just so it can flow better. And so no one much wants to include the raw version of that interview, at least so far. That is part of my dream for the platform, though, to be able to have that voice included.
Michael Bucknor: Just quickly, but don’t we have audio editing as well?
Kelly Baker Josephs: Not the same way.
Michael Bucknor: But there is a possibility that the original—in the same way that with films you edit the footage that you have—that there is that possibility of editing. I mean I understand the concern about different versions, and there is a way that we could put out some kind of disclaimer, but I think it would provide different ways that people could access this information.
Patricia J. Saunders: I think part of the difficulty with that is the time and the nature of editing. I mean, it’s been interesting: we’ve had a number of students do interviews, and they type up the interviews based on the digital transcripts and assume that their work is done. And I have to educate them on how an academic interview works. Part of this education is highlighting the fact that interviews are actually curated much in the same way as a gallery exhibit. Because if they’re done the way the conversation flows, things go in and out . . . . I have not met a person I’ve interviewed yet who’s been willing to say, “Yes, go live with this.” Because more often than not, it’s just some time, over the course of several days, having a conversation that meanders, and sometimes things come up that they want to develop. And I’ve seen this happen—two years later, something out of that conversation then comes out as a poem or an essay. And so they’re a little guarded. Because of course with the interview, before it’s published, the person you’re interviewing has the right to vet it and say “yes this, no that.” And so it’s an interesting give-and-take based on trust between the interviewee and the interviewer.
Audience member: We are discussing a lot about books that are current, but I’m thinking about BIM [magazine] issues that are dated, because I’m interested in the works of writers that have passed [who] submitted to them, and in particular Barbadian writers, and I was wondering how realistic or possible it is to digitize that work?
Laurie N. Taylor: Digitization, the technical process, has gotten a lot easier. The getting permissions has also gotten easier, but we do have to get permissions to make sure it’s okay. I have permission forms on me at all times [audience laughter] because Gainesville is a small college town. Sometimes traveling, I’ll meet someone who can grant permissions. It’s about getting permissions and working with the community. Often, we have the materials in the library, so if we have a contact person for permissions for the materials, queuing it up and getting it digitized doesn’t take that long. We have enough people to make this totally doable.
Kelly Baker Josephs: From the outside looking in, one might think, “Why don’t I have all of Savacou at my fingertips?” Well, that’s because the people who have the rights to Savacou have not released them, and you can’t just put everything up online. We have the space, we have the technology now, but we still don’t have the “right”—I don’t know if that’s the proper word—the “right” to do that. And that is why you don’t see everything digitized.
Rosamond King (audience member): I have just a quick question, or comment. Thank you for the work that you are all doing, and it’s not lost on me that this is a panel of all women. And many of you are doing your work with journals for free, probably not even for course reduction at your institution. The people who write for you write for free. You can call it a labor of love, you can call it something else. But I’m just curious about any thoughts toward trying to, one, make this kind of labor more visible, and appreciated, and, two, possibly having it be compensated.
Patricia J. Saunders: I don’t know if people have been following the so-called Lingua mutiny. Lingua is a very-high-profile linguistics journal, and there was big fallout because of this precise thing. The publishing house, Elsevier, the company that “owns” the rights to this journal, kept raising the fees, and the people on the editorial board said, “Well, wait a minute, you’re getting your articles for free, we’re editing it, doing the peer review, how does this work?” So they all resigned, en mas, and started their own journal, which is going to be truly open access. But this “break-up” launched an all-out media frenzy across a number of academic newspapers and even in the Wall Street Journal. When the Wall Street Journal covers the resignation of an editorial board, it should give you a clear indication of the amount of money that’s involved with Elsevier. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars. In some instances, millions. The US is way behind on this; the UK has legislation in Parliament now about readjusting what open access means, particularly if research is funded by a public institution. Do publishers have the right to charge for access? That research has been paid for already by the public through their tax dollars, so why is the public being charged again? It’s a fascinating set of questions. What the Lingua fallout highlights is the amount of undocumented labor that academia relies upon. If we aren’t doing this work, nobody gets tenure. Without peer-reviewed articles, what would publishers publish? Without peer-reviewed journals, what is the basis for tenure? So we’re participating in our own exploitation, wittingly or unwittingly. This is literally the nature of the beast, right?
Kaiama L. Glover: I think that is one of the most important questions. I want to point out that my coeditor is male, and we are truly “co” in everything that we have done on this platform. And one of the things, for which I will give him full credit, is his insistence on everything being documented labor-wise. And that includes not just the credits for obvious things we know, like for the editors and the designers of the journal, but for our institutional partners, our special acknowledgment sponsors. And then also, and perhaps even more important, making labor visible. I mentioned earlier about our code being available on GitHub. The beautiful thing about GitHub is that . . . [projection of website] This is the history of the building of—and it goes on for pages—the building of the site. And anything you click on indicates who did the thing. So if a graduate student has worked on any project through Github, their labor is there. They can link that and point to it: “These are the contributions that I made specifically to this endeavor.”
And that has been something that’s really built into the ethos of developing the platform. Making sure that we recognize every single element of its development. Bypassing so many of the ways, as you pointed out, we let ourselves be exploited by who we hand off our content to. No time to go into it here, but just to say, part of what we’re going to try to do with sx archipelagos is responsibilize scholars for the production and the circulation of their own knowledge. And what that means is, first of all, that they maintain the copyright to their materials. But also we are encouraging people to submit their documents not in Microsoft Word, which is owned by people we don’t understand, but in plain text, which doesn’t have any proprietary software attached to it. And which actually lessens the cost of the production of the journal because we don’t have to hire people who know how to work with Microsoft Word in order to make the front end of the journal visible. So, these little, seemingly little, details that we built into the very conception of the platform are some small, but I think critical, ways to push back against some of the things that plague publishing for academia.
Patricia J. Saunders: And I would add to that, with Anthurium, again this is not accruing to us as faculty. However, our graduate students get training and mentoring and experience as fellows, and then “managing editor” becomes a line item on their CVs. And in the current job market, and with all the rave around digital humanities, there are no formal digital humanities training programs necessarily. So, Anthurium is a rare opportunity for graduate students to be involved in the full process of peer-review editing and publication. So that they’re, first of all, getting to see the newest scholarship that’s being published in the field, but they also understand the technical aspects of the production of it—what needs to be done to protect copyright, etc. All of these different things carry a tangible value in and of themselves once they hit the job market. This kind of training constitutes a translatable set of skills once they enter the job market.
Kelly Baker Josephs: We’ll take that as an opening out because we are out of time. I hope we’ve given you a sense of the wide variety of platforms and publishing venues that we have for Caribbean interdisciplinary work. Thank you, all.